Roster Round-Up

November 21, 2016

The Mariners were very busy on Friday afternoon, making a number of moves which added depth to the 40-man roster.

The moves involved players who may make more of an impact for Tacoma than for Seattle next year – although the players acquired do have some major league experience.

First up was a trade with Tampa Bay. The Mariners sent three minor league players, including Rainiers reliever Andrew Kittredge, to the Rays in exchange for corner infielder Richie Shaffer and utility player Taylor Motter.

Shaffer was the Rays first round draft pick in 2012. He’s appeared in 51 major league games over the past two seasons, hitting .213 with five home runs in 122 at-bats. With the Triple-A Durham Bulls, Shaffer hit 19 homers in a half-season in 2015 – but tailed off in 2016, hitting .227 with 11 homers in over 400 at-bats.

Motter plays everywhere, from middle infield to third base to outfield. He even pitched in a blowout game for Tampa last year. Like Shaffer, Motter had a big season with Durham in 2015 (.292, 14 home runs, 43 doubles) but couldn’t match it in 2016 (.229 with 13 home runs, 17 doubles). He made his major league debut with Tampa last year.

Both Shaffer and Motter have minor league options remaining, and seem like candidates to be back-and-forth players between Tacoma and Seattle next year.

The Mariners lost Kittredge in this deal, the Spokane native who pitched for the University of Washington before signing with the Mariners. Kittredge had a velocity spike in 2016 and saw his numbers improve as a result – Rainiers manager Pat Listach even used him as the closer down the stretch. We wish him the best with his new organization.

The Mariners made another trade, sending breakout Class-A pitching prospect Zach Littell to the Yankees in exchange for left-handed reliever James Pazos.

Seattle is hoping that Pazos can make an impact at the big league level. He was called up by the Yankees in each of the last two seasons, but was used very sparingly. At Triple-A Scranton last year, Pazos struck out 41 batters in 27.1 innings, but he also walked 19. He’s always been tough to hit – in his minor league career, he’s allowed 159 hits in 215.1 innings.

The Mariners also signed some minor league free agents, according to Baseball America’s transactions.

They re-signed catcher Steve Baron, who was removed from the 40-man roster after the season and briefly became a free agent. Baron is a former Rainiers player, but he spent (nearly) the entire 2016 season with the Double-A club. He’s a candidate to play for Tacoma this coming season.

A pitcher who might help the Rainiers was signed: right-handed reliever Peter Tago. Tago was a supplemental first round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies in 2010, from a high school in southern California. Last year in Double-A he struck out 78 batters in 59.2 innings, with 33 walks. Reports say he is a “throws hard, needs to improve his command” type of reliever.

They also signed Class-A right-handed pitcher Blake Perry, who was the Arizona Diamondbacks 6th round draft pick out of high school in 2010. He pitched for Visalia in the California League last year, moving from the starting rotation to the bullpen. This is likely a player GM Jerry Dipoto is familiar with from his time with the Diamondbacks.

With all of these additions, there were some losses.

Rainiers star Stefen Romero was released so that he could pursue an opportunity in Japan.

This has been in the works for a while. Romero was scouted heavily by the Japanese teams in 2016, and at one point it was possible he might make the jump during the season.

It’s a great opportunity for Romero, hopefully he makes the best of it. He’ll go down as one of the most productive hitters in Tacoma history.

The Mariners also lost left-handed reliever David Rollins, who was claimed off waivers by the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs (not a typo – that really happened, the Cubs won the World Series). Rollins pitched very well for Tacoma last year, but had an ERA of 7.68 in 34 major league innings for Seattle. Rollins was one of the Rainiers co-winners of the team community service award, and he’s a fun character to have on the team.

Finally, Seattle added three players to the 40-man roster, protecting them from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. Tacoma first baseman D.J. Peterson, Rainiers lefty Paul Fry, and 100-mph reliever Thyago Vieira were selected.

Peterson was the Mariners first round draft pick in 2013, and he had a nice bounce-back season in 2016 to earn a spot on the roster.

Fry was the Mariners minor league reliever of the year in 2015, but he struggled with his command during the first half of his first Triple-A season. After the all-star break last year, Fry posted a 1.17 ERA with 29 strikeouts and just 14 hits allowed in 23 innings. He’s someone who could jump to the big leagues in 2017.

Vieiera is a Brazilian who throws very, very hard. He harnessed his control in 2016 and had a breakout season, finishing the year with Advanced-A Bakersfield. We may see him in Tacoma at some point next year – or he could go the Edwin Diaz route and skip us. When a reliever throws 100+ mph, he can move up the ladder very quickly.

Whew, done. Just another busy weekend in the Dipoto-era offseason!

Links:

Check back Wednesday for a Triple-A All-Star Flashback.


What’s Up, Baby Cakes?

November 17, 2016

Goodbye Zephyrs, hello Baby Cakes.

The New Orleans franchise announced its new name on Tuesday evening, and it’s a whopper. The Miami Marlins Triple-A affiliate is now known as the New Orleans Baby Cakes.

Now before I go on my rant – yes, there will be a rant – Baby Cakes has some local flavor. In New Orleans, king cake is part of the Mardi Gras celebration, and a small, plastic baby baked into the cake is good luck to the person who finds it.

Regardless what you think of the Baby Cakes name – early returns are polarizing, to say the least – this is part of a continuing trend in minor league baseball.

Spearheaded by a San Diego promotional company called Brandiose, teams around the nation have developed new names and “cute” logos. Brandiose developed the name and logo for our favorite team to kick, the El Paso Chihuahuas.

They also created other team name changes this year in the minor leagues – I believe they had a hand in each of these:

  • Binghamton Rumble Ponies
  • Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
  • Down East Wood Ducks
  • Florida Fire Frogs

Here’s the thing, minor league team owners: you don’t have to permanently change your name in order to cash in on a new cute logo. The Fresno Grizzlies taught us this.

Fresno has developed an alternate reality, playing all Tuesday home games as the Fresno Tacos. The players wear Tacos uniforms and Tacos hats, and there is a full array of Tacos memorabilia available for fans to eat up in the team store. And the stuff sells.

The thing is, it is not permanent. The team is still the Grizzlies, and the Tacos are a silly and fun twice-a-month sideshow.

We could do this here in Tacoma.

What is Tacoma most famous for in our region? Easy: our never-ending freeway construction project.

Let’s do it. One day a week we’ll change our name to the Tacoma NeverEnding Freeway Construction. We’ll do this each Friday, and we’ll start the games during the heart of rush hour – say, 5:35. We’ll have Brandiose create special uniforms with the Tacoma NeverEnding Freeway Construction logo: a lane closed sign, with cute flashing arrows pointing toward a home plate. The hat will feature the Google traffic map – it will look terrific, lots of red. Games will be brought to you by Waze. The team store will be loaded with NeverEnding Freeway Construction gear. It will sell like hotcakes.

Six days a week we’ll be the Tacoma Rainiers, and on Fridays we’ll the Tacoma NeverEnding Freeway Construction.

Then, if the fans ever get tired of the Tacoma NeverEnding Freeway Construction logo (or if the freeway construction project is actually completed – sorry that was just too ridiculous, even for this post), we’ll quietly stop using it and become the Rainiers 24/7/365 again.

This way, we never actually committed to changing our name to the Tacoma NeverEnding Freeway Construction, or the Akron RubberDucks, or the Omaha Storm Chasers, or the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, or the New Orleans Baby Cakes. It was just temporary, and we could get away from it.

OK, that’s it, I’m done. You can catch the Baby Cakes at Cheney Stadium for a four-game series this coming season, May 6-9.

Baby Cakes Links:

The Usual Links:


Trades, Signings, Assignments, Etc.

November 15, 2016

Checking in on a Tuesday with some notes and links from the past few days:

The Mariners made a trade, acquiring corner infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia from the Oakland A’s in exchange for Double-A starting pitcher Paul Blackburn.

Valencia is an established and oft-traded major league hitter. He hit .287 with 17 home runs last year overall – and against left-handed pitchers, he hit .318 with a .924 OPS.

At the moment, the trade appears to set up a likely first base platoon with Valencia and Dan Vogelbach. We’ll see if general manager Jerry Dipoto is willing to give the rookie Vogelbach a shot next year, or if he acquires another left-handed first baseman to replace the free agent Adam Lind.

Blackburn had a good year in Double-A and we had him penciled in the 2017 Rainiers starting rotation. As a prospect, most analysts have him projected as a future No. 4 or No. 5 starter at the major league level.

Left-handed reliever Kraig Sitton, who was a minor league free agent, signed with the San Francisco Giants.

Sitton pitched in 35 games for Tacoma last year, with a 2.93 ERA. In 43 innings pitched, he struck out 31 and walked just seven batters while only giving up two homers.

The M’s have a shortage of left-handed relievers at the major league and Triple-A levels. I thought they might bring Sitton back – and for all we know, they may have tried to – but he’s gone now.

Dipoto will be trying to acquire LHPs at both the major league and Triple-A levels this offseason.

According to Baseball America’s Minor League Transactions, the Mariners have assigned Rainiers reliever Andrew Kittredge to the Arizona Fall League. It does not indicate which pitcher he is replacing.

The AFL has Pitch FX data in (all or some of) the stadiums. I’ll be curious to see if Kittredge has maintained the increased velocity he developed during the 2016 season.

The folks at MiLB.com have posted the Park Factors for all 30 Triple-A stadiums, and once again Cheney Stadium has proven to be a great pitcher’s park.

Tacoma ranked as the 4th-best pitcher’s park among the 16 PCL stadiums, in terms of runs scored. Cheney ranked 4th-friendliest for pitchers in 2016, and also over a three-year window from 2014-2016.

Interestingly, Cheney Stadium ranked well below average in home runs in 2016 – but the stadium saw so many home runs hit in 2014 and 2015, that the ballpark’s three-year home run factor still ranks 6th-highest in the league. This is because of Cheney’s short distances down the lines.

The article can be found right here. The write-up on the bizarre numbers coming out of Colorado Springs is fun stuff. And check out the 2016 home run factor for the new park in Nashville!

Links:

Check back for a new post on Thursday, which will hopefully be a Triple-A All-Star Flashback, and hopefully won’t be a rant about the New Orleans Zephyrs new team name which is supposed to be announced later today.


Minor League Free Agents Announced

November 10, 2016

Baseball America released its annual list of minor league free agents (the entire list is in the links below), and here are the Mariners players. I bolded the names of those who played for Tacoma in either 2015 or 2016 (or both).

Seattle Mariners (26)
RHP:
Geovanny Acosta (DSL), Al Alburquerque (AAA), Bryan Evans (AA), Mayckol Guaipe (AAA), Osmer Morales (Hi A), Ramon Morla (Hi A), Dillon Moyer (SS), Kevin Munson (AAA), Isaac Sanchez (AA), Kyle Schepel (AA), Forrest Snow (AAA)
LHP: Joselito Cano (SS), Danny Hultzen (AA), Brandon Sisk (AA), Kraig Sitton (AAA)
C: Rob Brantly (AAA), Ryan Casteel (AA), P.J. Jones (AAA)
2B: Luis Benoit (DSL)
3B: Patrick Brady (AA), Renny Osuna (AA)
SS: Benji Gonzalez (AA)
OF: Mike Baxter (AAA), Leon Landry (AA), Ismael Pena (R), Ryan Strausborger (AAA)

Don’t be surprised if the Mariners re-sign some of these players – quite a few still have a lot value, at least at the Triple-A level.

In particular, I think Kraig Sitton would be a good choice for the Mariners to try to re-sign, due to the shortage of left-handed relievers in upper levels of the organization.

And are we really prepared for a world without Forrest Snow in the M’s system? I know I’m not ready for it.

Time for another… Triple-A All-Star Flashback!

Tacoma is hosting the 30th annual Triple-A All-Star Game at Cheney Stadium on July 12. We’ll spend the winter looking back at the previous years, to give fans an idea what they can expect in Tacoma this summer.

1991

A Mariners prospect took center stage in the fourth Triple-A All-Star Game, held at Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium.

The Mariners were still affiliated with Calgary in 1991, and their star performer was first baseman Tino Martinez. Martinez spent most of the 1991 season with the Cannons, batting .326 with 18 home runs and 86 RBI – and a that-really-happened ratio of 82 walks to 44 strikeouts.

Martinez was chosen as a starter in the game, batting third for the American League affiliates. Alas, he went hitless in the game – a 6-5 National League win.

The other big future star in the game was Kenny Lofton, who started in center field for the NL while representing the Tucson Toros. Lofton hit a single, stole a base, and scored a run – all things he would do many times in his borderline Hall of Fame career.

The 1991 game had fewer future major league stars than the other games we have looked at so far, but it made up for it by being a good baseball game: trailing 4-2 going to the bottom of the eighth inning, the NL scored four runs to take a 6-4 lead, and withstood a ninth inning AL rally to win 6-5. Tucson third baseman Gary Cooper hit the go-ahead two-run double in the eighth inning.

1991 All-Star Game Fun Facts

  • The starting pitcher for the AL was Denny Neagle, who was with the Portland Beavers that year before breaking in with the Twins and getting traded to Pittsburgh. He went on to win 124 big league games, including a 20-win season with Atlanta in 1997.
  • Other players to appear in the game who went on to play in the majors for extended stints included: catcher Todd Hundley, outfielder Darren Lewis and Chad Curtis, infielders Rey SanchezPhil Plantier, Chris Donnels, and Andujar Cedeno, and pitchers Rick Reed and Roger Mason.
  • Current Nashville Sounds manager Steve Scarsone was the top performer in the game, going 3-for-4 with an RBI for the NL affiliates. He played for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 1991.
  • The Tacoma Tigers lone all-star was reliever Kevin Campbell, who posted a 1.80 ERA over 75 innings that year in the PCL. He went on to pitch in parts of five seasons for the Oakland A’s and Minnesota Twins, appearing in 77 big league games.
  • For the first time in Triple-A All-Star Game history, neither of the managers became big league managers later in their careers – although NL manager Bob Skinner had a brief run as a major league skipper long before 1991.
  • One of the game’s coaches is a current major league manager: Philadelphia Phillies skipper Pete Mackanin was a coach for the NL, representing Nashville.
  • The game drew 20,725 fans, which remains the Triple-A All-Star Game record to this day. We will not be breaking the record in 2017 in Tacoma unless we triple the size of Cheney Stadium before July 12. Is there any way to bring in two or three temporary upper decks? I kid, I kid.
  • Nobody comes to the games to watch the umpires, but the Triple-A All-Star crew included Phil Cuzzi and Angel Hernandez, who were promoted to the majors shortly after the game and are both still in the big leagues.
  • For the only time in Triple-A All-Star Game history, the Home Run Derby was split into left-handed (Lee Stevens) and right-handed (Gary Cooper) champions. I have no idea why.

Like ’em or not, we’ll keep doing these Triple-A All-Star Flashbacks all winter long, because I think they’re fun.

Links:


Mariners Begin To Adjust Roster

November 8, 2016

The Mariners made the first move what figures to be another busy offseason for General Manager Jerry Dipoto on Monday afternoon, trading for a veteran catcher.

The M’s sent left-handed pitcher Vidal Nuno to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for catcher Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz replaces Chris Iannetta, who left via free agency.

As it stands now, Ruiz and Mike Zunino will handle the catching duties at the major league level in 2017.

Ruiz will play next year at age 38. Ruiz was contributor to the Phillies 2008 World Series championship, though his most productive seasons came later from 2010-2012.

He’s always been a good on-base percentage player, with a career mark of .352. Ruiz also has a world of experience to draw upon, and should fill the role of “savvy veteran.”

The trade cost the Mariners one of their few left-handed relievers, and Dipoto will certainly address that this winter. The team has already made one move in that area, claiming LHP Dean Kiekhefer off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals.

Kiekhefer rode the Memphis-to-St. Louis shuttle last season, appearing in 29 Triple-A games and 26 Major League games.

He was very successful for Memphis, posting a 6-1 record with a 2.08 ERA in the PCL. Included was an appearance against Tacoma at AutoZone Park on August 12th in which he earned the win with two scoreless innings of relief.

In the majors, Kiekhefer had a 5.32 ERA in 22 innings pitched. It was his first season getting big league experience.

Kiekhefer uses deception rather than overpowering stuff to get outs. He is particularly effective against left-handed batters.

He should help the Rainiers. Whether he can make the necessary adjustments to help the Mariners remains to be seen.

We’ll take a moment to honor former Rainiers lefty Matt Thornton, who announced his retirement from baseball yesterday at age 40.

Thornton was the Mariners controversial first round draft pick in 1998, when he was selected 22nd overall out of tiny Grand Valley State in Allendale, Michigan. It was a surprise first round pick – Thornton was more of a basketball player in college.

He was a project from the day the M’s drafted him: a tall, hard-throwing lefty with little pitching experience. It eventually worked out (in a pretty big way), but not until he had exhausted his minor league options with the Mariners and was traded to the White Sox for Joe Borchard in spring training, 2006.

Thornton pitched in 748 major league games over 13 seasons, settling in as a flamethrowing set-up reliever. He had a career ERA of 3.41, with 642 strikeouts in 662 innings pitched. He pitched in the 2010 All-Star Game.

With Tacoma in 2003 and 2004, Thornton was still a minor league project. He was a starter in 2004, making 16 starts and going 7-5 with a 5.42 ERA. I remember some days he looked dominant, and most days he was wild. He walked 63 batters in 83 innings.

Eventually he figured out how to command his pitches, and the long big league career followed. Congratulations to Matt.

Links:

Check back for a new post on Thursday; we’ll do another All-Star Flashback unless Dipoto does something amazing for the Rainiers, like sign Wily Mo Pena.


Ex-Tacoma Pitcher Montgomery Clinches Cubs Win

November 3, 2016

What a game! In a terrific Game 7 which is already being proclaimed one of the most memorable baseball games ever, the Chicago Cubs took down Cleveland in ten innings last night, 8-7.

It’s the first Cubs championship since 1908, and once again a former Tacoma pitcher recorded the final out for Chicago.

As mentioned last week, a Tacoma Tigers pitcher (from the 1904 season) named Orval Overall pitched a shutout to clinch the Cubs 1908 World Series title.

Yesterday, former Tacoma Rainiers pitcher Mike Montgomery recorded the final out, entering the game with two outs in the bottom of the tenth inning, with the tying runner on base. He got Michael Martinez to ground out to smiling third baseman Kris Bryant, ending the game.

Mark it down: the Cubs can’t win a title without a former Tacoma pitcher on the mound.

The Mariners made some roster moves of note yesterday and today, which was the deadline to clear out the 60-day disabled list.

LHP Charlie Furbush was outrighted to Tacoma, and can choose to become a free agent. Furbush had rotator cuff surgery on his left shoulder in August and will probably not be able to pitch until 2018.

RHP Adrian Sampson was claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers. He was on the disabled list since June with a forearm strain.

RHP Ryan Cook was outrighted to Tacoma and can become a free agent. He never pitched for Seattle, spending the entire 2016 season on the disabled list, and he eventually required ‘Tommy John’ surgery and will miss next year.

C Steve Clevenger was outrighted to Tacoma, and can become a free agent. He broke his (non-tweeting) hand on June 30th and missed the rest of the season.

C Steve Baron was removed from the 40-man roster, and is now on waivers. He can be claimed by any team who adds him to their 40-man. Baron played one game for Tacoma last year – and spent the rest of the season at Double-A Jackson. If he clears waivers, he’ll be added to the list of potential 2017 Rainiers players.

RHP Ryan Webber was claimed off waivers from the Atlanta Braves, and becomes a possible Rainiers player for 2017. Webber had a 2.76 ERA in 62 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett last year. He also pitched in 16 major league games for Atlanta, posting a 5.45 ERA.

RHP Nathan Karnes was reinstated from the 60-day disabled list.

OF Nori Aoki was claimed off waivers by the Houston Astros.

OF Seth Smith had the club-option on his contract picked up, so he’s in the fold for 2017.

C Chris Iannetta did not have his club-option picked up, so he’s a free agent.

And that officially opens the Hot Stove League. Free agency started today – eligible players can declare free agency now, and can begin signing on Tuesday. The Mariners major league free agents are OF Franklin Gutierrez, 1B Dae-Ho Lee, 1B Adam Lind, and RHP Drew Storen.

The GM Meetings start next week in Arizona and that’s usually when the rumor mill starts churning.

Links:


Triple-A All-Star Flashback: Juan Gonzalez Gives A Preview

November 1, 2016

It’s been a great World Series so far, I hope you have been enjoying it as I have. It’s going to be wild if this thing goes seven games.

Not much in Mariners news lately – we do have a few links down below – so let’s do another of the Triple-A All-Star Game Flashbacks. I’ve been having fun researching these, hopefully they are fun for you too.

Tacoma is hosting the 30th annual Triple-A All-Star Game at Cheney Stadium on July 12. We’ll spend the winter looking back at the previous years, to give fans an idea what they can expect in Tacoma this summer.

1990

The third Triple-A All-Star Game was the first held in a Pacific Coast League ballpark. Just to show how time flies by, it was shiny, sort-of-new-at-the-time Cashman Field in Las Vegas which received the honor. In 2016, Cashman would be just about last in line to host the game.

The biggest future star in this game was Oklahoma City outfielder Juan Gonzalez, who became one of the most dangerous hitters in the major leagues and won two AL Most Valuable Player awards for the Texas Rangers (1996 and 1998). He hit 40+ home runs in five different seasons.

The fans in Vegas got to see a young Juan Gone go deep – just like he was about to do 434 times in major league games. He went 2-for-5 with a homer and two RBIs, but his American League club lost the all-star game to the NL, 8-5.

Future Mariners infielder Luis Sojo – he of the key clutch hits in the M’s 1995 run to the playoffs – became the first player to get four hits in a Triple-A All-Star Game. Suiting up for Syracuse, Sojo batted leadoff for the AL and went 4-for-5 with a triple.

We had an honor in this one: Scott Chiamparino became the first Tacoma pitcher to start the all-star game. The Oakland A’s prospect – remember, we were the Tacoma Tigers back then – went 13-9, 3.28 in the PCL.

Tacoma also had a reliever in the game, Joe Bitker. In an odd twist, both Chiamparino and Bitker were traded to the Texas Rangers at the end of that PCL season for productive designated hitter Harold Baines.

Chiamparino’s all-star start didn’t go very well: three innings pitched, four runs allowed, and a loss. At least Bitker tossed a scoreless inning.

1990 Triple-A All-Star Game Fun Facts:

  • For the third straight year, we had a future MLB manager at the helm of one of the teams. Albuquerque’s Kevin Kennedy managed the NL squad; he would go on to manage the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox.
  • Not only did Juan Gonzalez homer in the game, but he also won the Home Run Derby by out-slugging the likes of Eddie Williams, Lee Stevens, and Hensley “Bam Bam” Muelens.
  • Current Seattle Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre pitched a scoreless inning in the game. Stottlemyre was representing Omaha, and this was his only Triple-A All-Star Game. Six days after the game, he made his major league debut with Kansas City.
  • All-Stars who would go on to have long major league careers included David Segui, Jose Offerman, Bernard Gilkey, Dave Hansen, and Hard Hittin’ Mark Whiten.
  • One of the best names in Triple-A All-Star Game history graced the 1990 box score: Columbus reliever Kevin Mmahat pitched a scoreless inning. Mmmm, a hat.
  • Token radio guy tidbit: one of the broadcasters was Las Vegas play-by-play man Ken Korach, who is currently the voice of the Oakland A’s.

Links:

Enjoy Game Six and Game Seven (if necessary). We’ll be back with a new post on Thursday.